The ego battle of music – originality or joy?

Sounds esoteric for a title, right? It’s probably because it is a rather esoteric and – for many of us, musicians – intriguing topic as well. Many advancing (and thinking) musicians reach a point in their career when they start looking for their own voice. It usually happens early on, and for some, it last for a long, long time – sometimes throughout an entire life. There’s this inner urge that forces a poor musical being to strive for some kind of ultimate originality, to create something that no one else ever created before.

What’s behind this urge? It’s the ego. The desire of the self to impress, to conquer the empire of music, to be the new king, the new pioneer to follow. Who do they want to impress? Surprisingly, it’s usually not the audience in general; rather, it’s their fellow musicians – their peers and their idols – who they want to defeat and surpass. Because if one comes up with something new, he suddenly stops being the follower; he can lay down his very own rules, bend them at will, and dictate the whole trend he has created. And be incredibly hip at the same time, as well.

nature musicSo what does the musician striving for originality do? He changes and reinvents the form. We can see this happening in every genre. There was Schönberg and his 12 tone system serialism, with quite a following among atonal composers; there’s the whole free jazz scene, with Ornette Coleman and his harmolodics (whatever they truly are); or there’s Allan Holdsworth, who said whenever he caught himself playing anything that resembles a pentatonic blues lick, he deliberately went elsewhere on the fretboard. While it’s true that some of these musicians have a fan base, and are definitely interesting and admirable, they have never become widely popular. Interestingly, you are hard pressed to find atonal folk music; some reports claim that listening to atonal music activates the pain area of the brain.

That brings up the question, are these musicians masochists? Do we really need to reinvent the wheel of music, at the expense of losing the joy and healing force it naturally carries? While exploring these new areas are intriguing and important, at a point, at least some of these musicians return to something more naturally and collectively pleasant. They are usually the ones who realize that one can remain original without having to rely on a completely new and unusual musical system. Look at it this way: just like the way we, human beings all look pretty much alike, yet we are individually recognizable and unique at the same time; the music of the individual will always remain just as unique and personal as well, because it simply can’t be in any other way. So one should not worry about being original. As long as he finds joy, pleasure and love in creating music; chances are high that it will be acknowledged as effortless, joyful music, music of his own.

One Reply to “The ego battle of music – originality or joy?”

  1. How true.

    Reminds me of a quote from John Paul Jones when asked about the dynamics of Led Zeppelins “classical” influences to change the face of rock music. He said Led Zeppelin was a “pop” band nothing more.

    The other surviving members didn’t appreciate that comment too much. They had a marketing mystique to uphold.

    I personally quit “rock” , blues guitar and entertain people…. and myself more with Christmas songs and TV theme songs.

    Ragtime makes my Tele sound like what it was built for.

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